Thursday, July 30, 2009

The PreCISE Spot

The PreC.I.S.E. MC is a nice, NY rapper who signed to Luke Records when they made their first efforts to expand beyond Miami bass music. She put out her underrated debut in 1991, which featured a fun follow-up to Super Lover Cee's "Girls I Got 'Em Locked" called "So You Think You Got 'Em Locked," which featured Super Lover Cee himself. Unfortunately, it flew under the radar and she disappeared for a while. But she drew attention in 1995, appearing on Big Kap's hit single, "Da Ladies In da House" as a part of an all-star female MC line-up featuring Bahamadia, Lauryn Hill, Uneek, and someone named Treep. Her verse was nice, but I'm not sure how many people realized who she was.

Well, this is her independent 12" release that followed that up (also her final release to date). "The Spot" came out on Paid Music (this being their first and only venture) in 1997. Well, popular opinion seems to be that it came out in 1997, at least. There's no date on the label. But if it wasn't '97, it was right around there.

The A-side, "The Spot (Radio Mix)," is clearly more of her stab at a club hit. It's produced by Tramp Baby, who's mostly done R&B-type work, and features two R&B singers... a female doing background crooning, and a male who does the hook. But the beat's based around a classic, old school sample and her rhymes are smooth, so there's nothing to complain about. It's on a "Summertime"-type vibe. This is one of those rare examples where an underground MC makes a mainstream song and actually succeeds. And she sounds just like she did on her old records, so PreC.I.S.E. fans from '91 won't be disappointed.

Now, the B-side's a bit mislabeled... they've got the tracks in the wrong order. But basically you get the instrumental for "The Spot" and "Whatever Works," which is clearly designed to be the underground banger of the 12". It's produced by Tramp Baby again, but the R&B singers and soul samples are gone. Instead you get a hard-hitting drum track a deep, speaker-rumbling sample, and a hook based off of T-La Rock's classic, "It's Yours." She doesn't get rough with her delivery, though, and she avoids that straining-to-be-clever, punchline-heavy style that was prevelant in underground NY rap at the time. She's just slick, smooth and engaging.

Unfortunately, like everything else she put out, this got slept on. So track it down and pick it up. It comes with a nice sticker cover and probably won't be too expensive, 'cause most people don't even seem to know who she is.

This Is How It Should Be Done

This Golden Ticket (not actually golden, but "Black & White Ticket" doesn't sound as fun and Willy Wonka-ish) came inside the sleeve of the new BusDriver album (which I wrote about here). I know he's not the first to do this; but he's still one of the select few, so props to him... Honestly, everybody should be selling music this way, now. It's win/win. Forget CDs, Forget itunes or any other way of selling music. Just vinyl coupled with an mp3 download. Perfection. 8)

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Doves Cry Rap

(Youtube version is here has been taken down! I'm working on getting it back up; fingers crossed. <---it back="" div="" s="" yay="">

Sunday, July 26, 2009

InstaRapFlix 21: The All Access Show

Ok, some more weird, random hip-hop shit on Netflix. There's one 20 minute video on there called The All Access Show (Netflix rating: 1.5 stars). It seems to be related to the All Access series of "DVD magazines" (which Netflix also carries, but not for Instant Viewing); but I guess this is a special or something. Anyway, it's only 20 minutes (even shorter when you discount the credits) and nobody's bothered to review it or anything. So of course I had to watch it!

So, right off we got our host, Kraze, telling us he's got some special guests and what-not. First up is a music video by DJ Khaled (alternatively dubbed both "We Takin' Over" and "We Taken Over" on-screen... I hope for Khaled's sake, it's the first one!). It's the censored radio version, by the way; so about 50% of the song is performed in mime. And even though they cut it off just as Lil Wayne's verse starts, that still takes us more than 1/4 of the way through the movie!

Then we get a little behind-the-scenes footage of a Redman video ("Put It Down") for another five minutes. Shit, we're already halfway done! Well, next is another music video: "Wipe Me Down" by Trill Family. If you haven't heard it, it's one of the most annoying songs ever. Finally, we get a little interview with Lloyd, padded out with a couple clips from his music videos.

And that's the whole thing. I don't understand, was this sold as a purchasable DVD all by itself? The actual All Access DVDs are like a proper 2 hours. And I can't find this on Amazon or anyplace else on the 'net. Anyway, fuck it. There's nothing worth watching here anyway, except possibly the Lloyd interview if you're a serious fan of his. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. But not very much time, at least.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rappin' Tate

That's an awesome cover right there, isn't it? Let's face it, even if the record was blank on both sides, some of us would have to add this one to our collections anyway. The man right there is Chicago's own Rappin' Tate, often billed as Rappin' Tate the Great. I'm pretty sure this is his only record (technically that's my cassette single you're looking at, but the 12" has the same picture cover), though he had a couple other songs he performed live - "Ambitious" on T.O.M.A. Records from 1988. But he's been a pretty historical figure in Chicago's hip-hop scene, doing a lot as an activist, etc.

In his liner notes, he thanks LL Cool J, who he cites as one of his greatest inspirations. But we didn't need him to write it on the label to figure that one out. His flow here is clearly based on "I Need Love." The whole song's a little bit faster, but with the layer over layer of keyboards (credited to Ice Tea of E.T.S.), and his dual themes of "you can do it" and "girl, I love you;" it's at least twice as sappy. The flow's about as basic as you can get, and man, did I mention those keyboards? They're literally dripping off this wax.

It's ok to dig out for the occasional smile if you're up for reveling in the corniness; but forget it. It's all about the B-side. If "Ambitious" was his "I Need Love," then "My Cozells" (as in Cazal sunglassess) is his "Rock the Bells!"

Ok, it's still a little cornier than "Rock the Bells." It's not as synth-happy as "Ambitious," but there's still some on here. They're more hardcore and go well with the driving rhythm of the song, but synths is synths, and to some people they'll always just sound dated and cheap. But fuck it; it's a great old school song and you'll still rock out to it. It's super high energy, and really, this anthem dedicated to his sunglasses takes a lot (in a good way) from "Rock the Bells," as well as, of course, from "My Addidas." "My cozells - if you try to break 'em off my face; I'll hit ya so hard your nose will break!" He just plain raps better on this one, and the stuttering hook is a classic, "my-my-my co, my-my-my co, my-my-my coZELLS!!" Fuck yeah!

By the way, the instrumentals are worth checking out, too. "Ambitious" starts out as the straight instrumental, but on the second half, Ice Tea really crazy with the solo boards. It may actually be a more fun listen than the vocal version. And "My Cozells" gives us something extra, too. It's longer than the original, and unlike the "Ambitious" instrumental, it's actually more stripped down, with less synths and more emphasis on the percussion. It also features about 50% of the vocals, making it almost a remix. It's a little longer than the vocal version, too, and features the opening verse acapella. In both cases, they almost work better as a single, double-length song.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Learn Along With Werner, part 2

It's not necessarily a rule of mine that every "Learn Along With Werner" post of mine be about Father MC, but what can I say? It is what it is; and really, there can never be too many blog posts written about Father.

This album is one I knew of for a long time, and I'd done some online research to confirm the details for my Father MC discography page; but I never actually had this in my collection. But I finally broke down and picked this up last month. It's I Love You Like you Are, by Ray Parker Jr. (best known for the classic GhostBusters theme song, of course), which came out in 1991 on MCA. So, basically the same label as Father, just as he was releasing his third or fourth hit single off his debut album.

Now, I already knew Father had a couple guest spots on this album. Heck, there was even a video for one of them. But one thing I didn't know is that he produced and wrote (not just his own parts) on this album. What's more, even though he's only credited as having guest raps on two songs, the liner notes point out that he and someone named Tricky also do background vocals on a song called "Girl I Saw You" (one that he also wrote and produced). But having now listened to the album, he definitely does more than "background vocals;" he kicks a full verse:

"I'm in the mood for love, ah love;
I'm in the mood for love.
My name is Father MC and uh,
Hello, how are you?
Sorry for the interruption,
I don't want to bother you;
But you look so sweet and petite!
Come here to Love Daddy and have a seat.
'Cause I wish I could have three wishes;
For one, I'd be your mister, and you'd be my missus.
Never will I complain about doin' dishes,
As long as you keep givin' Father those kisses.
But Ray is the man, and I accept that he's the man.
I'm not a fan; and I just want to hold your hand.
But all's fair; I ain't cuttin' no throat.
I'm leavin', so pack me my coat;
I'm outta here - see ya! - on the next train.
o, keep your head up high, 'cause Father can't stand the rain."

...How is that just "background vocals?" So it turns out you've got three, not just two, Father MC guest verses (and I've updated my page accordingly). And the whole album's got a funky, new jack vibe if you like that sort of thing. Hell, Ray even raps a little on a couple of songs! There's only one or two brief moments of sappy, serious R&B; most of it's upbeat, fresh, and definitely a product unique to its short-lived time. And you get a little more hip-hop near the end, when London rapper MC Mello drops in for a guest verse as well.

So, yeah; I definitely wound up liking this album more than I was expecting. I mean, it's not high art, but they don't make 'em like this anymore. And, of course, it was a required purchase to further my position as the world's leading expert on the music of Father MC! ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Wind's Too Def To Die

There's a brand new review up at Diggers With Gratitude - here's a direct link. I decided to go with a nice, underrated west coast rarity this time. An absolute keeper if you can find it, and another tale of a tragically unreleased album. As always with my DWG reviews, sound clips are included. 8)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Still Bringing the Real - Gauge Interview

I just had the pleasure of talking with Gauge, who was good enough to take the time out, talk to me, and set me straight on a lot of questions I had about his long and varied career, from his rare indie rap 12"s in the early 90's to his upcoming (Christian rap) album he's working on now.

Ok, let's start with something I've only ever read about online… Is it true you used to be in a group with Lord Have Mercy called B.A.S.S.?

Yes. The name of B.A.S.S. means Brothers About Sight and Sound, and it came about because Lord Have Mercy and I both shared a DJ, named D-Mix. And he was just DJing for both of us and asked could we do things together? It wasn't really a full-fledged group, so much as a spin-off where you have two artists with their own identity that come together to do one thing.

And this was before the Maestro stuff?

Yeah, this was even before that. This was like when I first started rappin' period. Both of us lived in the same neighborhood: he's from Flatbush and so am I. And we knew each other from school. And when D-Mix and his brother Carl were doing beats for him, they were doing beats for me, we were just doing a lot of shows amongst each other. So it was just like, yo, why don't we try to do some things together? So how it worked out, is we did a single, where I had a song, he had a song and then we did one together. So it wasn't really like a group group.

And that came out on 12"?

Yeah, but that was years and years ago; and I'll tell you: if you're able to find that then you're really good.

Well, I've been looking! What was the label for that record?

Well, actually we were on a label called Chase Records at that time. We had this guy that we knew through D-Mix named Jason. He was a young entrepreneur trying to do his thing; and that was way before any of us decided to try our own labels. So, when I think back, I got respect for him, because since then he was really trying to do something with his own label.

Yeah, that was kinda before the 90's boom of independent 12"'s.

Right. When independents started to kick in later in the 90's, everybody was doing it. But back then when he was doing it, pretty much nobody was. So back then, when they told me to meet the head of the label and he was a young guy just like us, and he was black, I was just like "whoa! You sure that's who you are?" It really blew my mind like - this is crazy!

So, how did you go from there to being signed with Maestro? That was the time when he came to New York, right?

Yeah, he moved to New York. What happened was I lived on a street called Brooklyn Avenue, and he wound up moving around the corner from me. And there was a few times walking down the street that I would see him and be like, hey, what's up? And I didn't know who he was. It was just like, how you doing? But then I used to do a lot of shows at CBGB's - I know you know CBGB's - and when I was performing one night, he came out and saw me. And after I came off the stage, he came over and talked to me and was like, yo, I was really impressed with your show and my name is Maestro. And I said, yeah, I remember you as the guy from around the way. And he said, why don't you come over to my apartment one day and let's hang out and I'll let you hear some of my stuff. I'm a pretty known artist up in Canada and this and that.

So, of course, you know, I'm just like ok whatever. Ok, you're a known artist in Canada, and you're livin' in Brooklyn, and I never heard of you a day in my life! And I've been in this business for a minute. But of course, I wasn't into the different, international artists. I did wind up going to his house and he showed me his Juno awards and a lot of videos and I'm like, wait a minute - this guy is official! And what really brought it in for me was when he's like, why don't you come so some shows with me, and I'll let you do one song of your own and you'll be my hype man.

So we worked on a couple of his songs and we got on a Greyhound - 'cause he had a tour to do; and we drove up to Canada. And that's when I really saw who he is! Believe me! At that point, that guy was like the LL of Canada. People knew exactly who he was, and I saw all the people who knew him and all the TV shows that spoke about him. And we got off the Greyhound and into VIP status once we got into Canada. We started getting on planes, and that's when the limos came out…And at that time he said to me, you know, I really consider you a good artist; so why don't we put out this record together? And that's when he funded for me to do "Cranium."

And, actually, he had you on his remix, too, right? Before that, "Pray To da East?"

Actually, right. You're pretty on point with that. We did "Pray To da East" first, which was on LMR Records. And they were located in New York, which was the crazy thing; he's so big in Canada! But he came to New York to do his album, which of course was Naaah, Dis Kid Can't Be From Canada?!! And he got a lot of flack in Canada 'cause people took the name wrong. They looked at it like he was trying to diss Canada, but he was just trying to say Canada's not on the map at that time! And that's what people here really said, 'cause they never heard about artists from Canada.

And that's really what set up me going on tour with him. 'Cause I was already on that song, and I knew a lot of the album. And at that time I was pretty popular on the underground, with Stretch, Bobbito and a lot of those guys. Plus, I lived in the same neighborhood as The Dwellas. And the crazy thing is The Dwellas met through me. UG used to dance for me, and Phan was my hype man. And that's how they met. UG could really dance back then; but I didn't realize he could rhyme as good as he could dance. One day, I was on the phone with him, and I heard him spitting a rhyme as he was walking off. I was like, "who's rhyme is that?" And he's like, no that's mine! And I realized how hot he was, and I always knew Phan was ill. So they hooked up, got the deal with LOUD, and it's history from there.

And is that how Lord met, too? Because I know he was briefly down with the Dwellas, too.

Right. That's how that came about. 'Cause Lord was cool with me and Phan was cool with me; and we were all from the same circle. And what happened is I kinda strayed off, and then they all started working together. Then Busta stepped in and took Lord! We all knew Busta from high school, because he went to school with us. He's originally from Flatbush.

Oh? I didn't know that.

Yeah, he does represent LI; but he went to Walt Whitman high school with all us in Flatbush. So did Special Ed; he was really tight with Busta. And me and Special Ed used to battle all the time on the block. We all got history. Same thing with Chip Fu and all the people from Flatbush. We all know each other here; and there's a lot of talent from Flatbush. We just weren't pushed the proper way and things didn't go exactly where I would've expected them to. But of course, you know, Busta did his thing.

So, Lord got down with Flipmode, the Dwellas did their album, and I did "Cranium," which sold over 9000 records. Now, you know, on the underground, on vinyl, that's a lot! It really shocked me when I started to tour out of the country, going to Germany, Switzerland and England and DJs were going into their crates and grabbing my record!

And after we did "Cranium," Fat Beats stepped in and actually gave me an advance to do distribute the next record. Ever hear of an underground record getting an advance? They said, we'll give you money up front if you bring this record here. 'Cause we were doing the remix with the Dwellas, so they wanted that bad. And we used the same beat for the remix. But what I didn't realize, when your biggest selling place is Japan, who don't really understand too much English, all they really are vibing to is the beat. So, I didn't think of that, but when I gave them the same beat, I really almost gave them the same record!

But the remix still did well, and The Dwellas had their following and we just kinda pushed from there. Actually, I was talking to Phantasm last night, and he was talking about new stuff that he's working on. So he's still doing his thing.

Nice; I haven't heard too much from him lately. Oh, well, I guess he was on the Blaq Poet was the last thing I heard.

Yeah, he's working on a mix CD and then gonna do an album afterward. He's just getting his beats together and getting ready to come out. We've become really good friend and we talk all the time. UG I don't see as much, but we still got love for one another.

Let me ask you this… on that first Maestro appearance, you're actually credited as being "Gauge, of the Rough Neck Bastards." Who were the others, and what was that about?

Right, that was another thing. The Rough Neck Bastards was a group, and in that group was me, Phantasm and my boy Greg, who lived on my block… I think BodyRock was his rap name. So we did, like, four songs together, and we were on Bobbito pushin' it. And Phan told me, I got a decision to make. I could roll with the Rough Neck Bastards or go with UG. I told him, go with what you think is the best. Now, at that point they didn't have their deal yet, but things were in the making. And they also had that edge where they were doing that mystic stuff, so they had something that was different.

So, UG came with us to Bobbito, which shows you how we were fam. This was before they were Dwellas. And we were just ripping it back and forth for like an hour. And what happened was, Phan told me he had to go with UG, and I would be foolish to tell him to turn down LOUD. LOUD was definitely a leading supreme team label at that time. So there was no way for me to even be their friend and tell them to not take that.

There was never a Rough Neck Bastards record, though, was there?

No. But we were in the studio. We used to be managed by Joeski Love. And he was helping us to get in the studio, and we recorded like 3, 4 records. But we never had a record out. We did demos; not records.

Ok, that actually goes into another question I had for you. I don't know if you know, but there's a Gauge demo album floating around the 'net now…

Oh yeah?

It's like 5 or 6 songs, and a couple of them are from your Unsigned Hype review, so I guess it's from around that time. But there's another song in that write-up called "Down To Earth" that's missing.

The Unsigned Hype thing was crazy, too. I was sitting on Church Ave. with Phantasm in the car, and we were listening to some new music of mine. And we were sitting in the car, and this guy walks down the block and notices Phan. He says, "aren't you Phan from the Dwellas?" He's like yeah. "I happen to be the new editor of The Source." We look at him like what? You're kidding me! Young black guy, walking down Church Ave giving us this line? He said he was the new editor for The Source and he wanted to do an interview with The Dwellas, and they exchange numbers. Phan says, by the way, this is my boy Gauge, listen to some of his material. So he sat and listened to it with us, and I said, I would like to see if I could get on that Unsigned Hype column. He said, "you know what? You got it for next month." I was in The Source three times actually, and I was also in Rap Pages as well, one of the unsigned hypes in there as well.

But. I don't know about that demo. There's definitely a lot of things floating around, because the internet is a crazy tool. But, yeah, I did a lot of demos! It came to the point where some demos were getting played. Like Stretch was playing the "Cranium" record, which was a demo first. I would credit the success of that record a lot to him. He played that record for 13 straight weeks! He literally said to me, "I'm gonna blow this record." And it did do a lot better than I actually thought. And even 20 years later, people are still calling me about that record. The remix as well. I like the remix a lot better.

Do you still have all those demos and tracks like that?

No. You know what's so funny. I used to be managed by a guy named DL; they used to do a lot of mix-tapes back then…

Like Eddie Ill and DL?

Yeah. DL managed me for a while. And I'll be honest with you: he was one of the best managers I ever had, 'cause he was the guy who had me all over Europe without even a record deal. I was touring all over the place just off the "Cranium" record, with a lot of different artists. I was doing records on their tapes that was considered records, and I was doing songs on Groove Attack.

But, anyway, what happened was I got a call recently about this underground record that was gonna come out called The Best Of the Underground. And they wanted "Cranium." They wanted the original, not the record, but the DAT. So I had to call Self who did the beat. And he's like, "I think it's in my garage…" And it never manifested because he never found the DAT. I said they could take it off the record, but that wasn't good enough; they wanted the DAT. It goes to show you, that one man's junk is another man's treasure. You wouldn't believe the amount of people that would love to have that DAT!

Now, you did a record with a group called Etcetera. Tell me about that, because I have that record, but I still don't know a lot about them.

Yeah, I read that blog you put up about that. Etcetera is a group that consists of a rapper and a producer. And the producer's name is Self, and he's the guy that did the beat for "Cranium."

Oh, I didn't realize that!

And the rapper is a guy named Shawn, and we go way back. We used to go to the studio together in Crown Heights, and Kweli used to go to that same studio. Queen Pen as well. I met Etcetera at the studio and we became good friends from there. And he used to hype man with me, so we created a bond. So he told me "we're creating a record, and we would like you and UG to guest star." So I was like ok, that's no doubt!

And it's funny, when I read your blog, that's kinda how I felt about it, too. I was like, ok… I wonder how this record's gonna come out. But it came out pretty good! Me and UG were sittin' in the studio going, yo, we're going hard on this record! We actually performed it a few times, and I think there was a video out.

Ok, well, now it's obviously been a long time since your 90's material and your latest album…let's get into what went on during that time.

Well, I think you know by now my whole life changed for me; I'm actually born again. I'm a Christian now and my life was given over to Christ. What happened was, in '99, I went through a major break-up, and I was shocked. I was out there, touring with Maestro, out there wildin' out; let's put it that way. Living the life of an artist. And when the relationship broke up, it really broke me up. And in that time I really had to do some soul searching and find myself; and it was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me.

Now, when you come to God, most people figure that He's not gonna want me to rap anymore. But, actually that's not what it was. He's actually now changed my context… and if you know my history, I never was that shoot 'em up, killer artist.

Right; you were never like a Geto Boy.

Exactly. So anybody that does know me… that's the good thing about my transition. It wasn't like a Hammer transition - not to diss him - but to go from a dancer to a hardcore thug look is not gonna work. And it didn't work, which is why you notice that he's coming back to the old way. And that's the good thing for me, because when I did go from the underground to the gospel, it didn't really show too much of a change.

And I've listened to your new music, and it's not like you changed your style or your voice or anything. It still sounds like Gauge.

Right. And I still get that kinda love. Because people contact me from all over the world telling me, "yo, I bought your new album because of "Cranium" or "Off-Key." And at first it was kind of concerning to me, because I try to let people know… One thing, I'm not trying to rob you! (Laughs) So I was hitting people back like, "understand that I'm a different person!"

Before the internet was so huge, we didn't know who loved us. We didn't know the type of fanbase we had. Because if we had a guy in Australia that just bought your record on vinyl, you weren't able to know that because he wasn't able to tell you. But nowadays, with the internet, it's such a huge, weird thing to see the tons of love that I get. Because I never felt as an artist, because I never had that major deal… so I never felt that until these things came about and I hear people say, "man, I've been following your career since day 1!" It's real humbling.

So my whole life had changed over. I started my own label and I got my own clothing line and I got my own things going. Things have changed for entrepreneurs, too. Everybody has more opportunities now. I was telling Phan the other day, all he has to do is put out a record and make it available on itunes. You know, he had over 200,000 fans. So if he got over 200,000 downloads, he could be a wealthy guy! It's that simple now. You don't even have to put out vinyl anymore, though I know guys like you who love the vinyl.

You can't ever fully do away with the vinyl. Like Evil Dee? That's one guy I give credit to: he stayed with that. Anywhere I go and see him, he'd be like "I'm not giving it up!" He's still lugging the records, and I'm like, one day your back's gonna be killing you! You're better off to go with the little CDs! But he'd rather lug the records.

But it's just been a roller coaster. Maestro's still doing a lot, and me and him are still great friends. He's an actor now, doing a lot of movies now. And we still keep in contact and he's proud of me and what I'm doing with this new album and still supports me 100%, and that's it.

You know what's so crazy about it is, if I didn't just come out and say I'm a Christian now, people wouldn't know it. If you listen to my music, I still bring the real, straight street information, and that's how I'm even labeled amongst the Christians. Within Christianity, we're considered all one body, but different parts. And there's some rappers that are more bible orientated; and they're more designed for the church. So people who already know it go in there and just get fed what they already know. Now, when it comes down to the street, to just grab people off the street and teach them truth, they always look to me. Like, if there's an outdoor thing that's not in the church and we're dealing with a bunch of 15, 16 year-old Bloods and Crips that's walking around and don't want to hear anything, I'm the one they call. Like, Gauge, get in there; they understand you. When I do my record "May Day" live, they go nuts offa that, because it definitely shows the skills, still, of the street.

Now the producers that produce on my album as well… I've got the Producers Coalition, which is Shamello, who did "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" for Busta, I got Spiderman on my album. I've been blessed. I'm about to do my new album and I've been talking to a lot of different people. Rockwilder called me; he wants some cuts on the new album.

What really happened to me is that…. When you're a new artist, a mainstream artist? You are one person amongst ten million. When you come to Christianity now, and look at Christian rappers, you're one in ten thousand. Even on your ratings like on myspace, if I took off Christian rapper than I probably wouldn't even be seen. But since I am, and when you put in New York and Christian rap, I'm like number 4. And I'll be honest with you, since I have changed over, I haven't stopped working! My schedule has been bananas; I perform pretty much every week. And when I do shows now, we got CDs, and people BUY the CDs.

And when you look at it, the churches are getting bigger, and the crack houses are getting smaller. So it's growing, the artists are getting better… Back in the days, when you said "Christian rap," people assumed they were garbage!

Well, it was probably because a few came out early on that were pretty wack that painted a bad picture.

And just to be real honest, that is the truth. But as artists, we had to learn. And the artists are getting better. So, it's a huge market out there for us now. As far as spirituality, I'm in a much better place than I've ever been. And then, on top of that, as far as financially, I'm in a much better place than I've ever been! I got it better both ways; so that's why I try to keep it down to Earth and let people know this is the way to go. It's better off to stand out than to fit in.

And now you're also part of a group called Shamellion Rebellion?

Yeah. Ok, now that's another group. Shamello and Spider put that group together of rappers that they produced. I happen to be the Christian rapper of that group. We got NJN, we got Intelligence, we got SI… it's like a mixture of a whole bunch of different rappers that come together to make one group. So whenever we are performing, what happens is we do it separately as well, like I did with Lord Have Mercy in the beginning. We each did a song by ourselves. Then, the song off my album, "Rebelution," was the first record we did together.

So, tell us about this new album you're working on and how it connects with your last one.

Well, December Thirty-First Nineteen Ninety-Nine was the last album, which was pretty much a testimony that talks about when I first started when I first came to God in '99 onto the point where I'm at right now. So it pretty much summed up seven years of my life. Now, the new album is called January First Two Thousand, which is the next day! So that pretty much speaks from when there until now. So people ask me, when are you gonna come out with the new album, and my answer is "I'm living it right now." That's the difference between what I was doing then and now. When you're just making up stories, it's easy to write ten albums. But when you're telling the truth, you've got to live it! One thing I can say is that everything on that last album is true. Even that "Sunshine" record, that's about me and my fiancé that I'm with right now. And everything you hear down through the whole album is true.

With this new album, I just did my first record for it, and I'm real happy with it. I'm working with some new producers, and I'm getting beats from people all across the world. So I'm real blessed right now. So I just want to thank everyone out there who's keeping my career going, all my friends and everybody that supported me. God bless.

You can still cop his last album and get the latest updates on what Gauge is working on here at his myspace page. Don't be afraid to message him reminders that he needs to press up some vinyl! haha

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two Sisters (Part 2)

I just went out and bought this record today. It's "High Noon," on Sugarscoop Records, again from 1983. I was curious about it because on the Two Sisters' album, they only include the "High Noon (Remix)." So this, presumably, is an otherwise unheard original version.

Like the album version, this track is co-produced by Paul A. Rodriguez (who did the whole album) and Man Parrish (who only did this one song). And, yes, this is definitely a different version of the song than the album's Remix.

What's more, on the B-side we have "High Noon (Part 2)!" Now, a lot of times, back in these early disco days, "Part 2" was just an overly-promising way of labeling the instrumental version. But here, "Part 2" is nearly three minutes longer than the A-side. And it's not just an instrumental or another "Dub-A-Pella" (see my last Two Sisters post); it's a proper, complete and alternate version of the song.

So, let's break it all down. First of all, just to clarify: the original mix is a bit over 4 minutes, the album version is about 5 even, and Part 2 is a full 7. Now, the original is naturally the simplest, though the basic elements of the song are the same on all versions... they've all got the same drums, bassline and super fast "dit-a-dit-a-dit-a-dit-dit" keyboard riff playing throughout. And the vocals are all the same, naturally. The premise here is that "high noon" is the critical point in the narrator's relationship with a guy; and they have to decide if they're going to pursue a relationship or move in seperate directions. To wit, "it's too late for me and you, our love has hit high noon!"

Part 2, then, is essentially an extended version of the original. It doesn't really add any new elements, but it features more scratching, more breakdowns, more fun stuttered vocals ("high nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-noon!" And for the sake of laying it all out on the table for you guys, I love that shit!) and more solo'd keyboard elements. There's also a few small bits where they add a stuttering echo effect to the scratches, which is kinda cool. It does feel a bit more natural in this form than on the A-side. To my mind, Part 2 is like the proper version of the song, and the A-side is the forgettable Radio Edit.

The remix (again, that's the one on the album) adds more spacey sound effects and some different scratches. That stuff that sounds like spaceship engines constantly flying by? That's only on this remix. Sometimes this mix xomes off as fresher, but othertimes it feels jumbled and overcrowded, like on the last verse, when they add a new high-pitched keyboard riff just as one of the sisters starts to sing again, and it just sounds noisy, where they're competing for your attention.

So, which version is the best is really going to just come down to personal preference... I think we can safely say that the original mix mostly just boils down to a historical curiosity piece only. But the remix and Part 2 both have their strengths (I think I'm personally leaning towards the latter). But the good news is that the 12" did turn out to have some nice exclusivity, and you can easily find copies of both, so you don't have to choose. :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

B-Boys, Beware; Two Sisters are... Right There

I've had the Two Sisters' album since I was a kid. And to me me back then, the album was really all about the opening track, "B-Boys Beware." It was pretty much the most straight up hip-hop track, and it featured MC G.L.O.B.E. of The SoulSonic Force... after that, for the rest of the album, they mostly sang and I wasn't too interested. But much later, as an adult, this is the single that brought my attention back to the rest of the album.

"Right There" came out on Sugarscoop Records in 1983. It's one of many singles off this album, 'cause back in those days, albums were really just compilations of the artist's multiple singles; and you'd have only maybe 2 or 3 tracks, usually of far lesser quality (read: half-assed), thrown on there as filler.

So, yeah, they sing; but this isn't R&B. You know, it's electro/ freestyle/ whatever else all those funky pop non-rap hip-hop songs get labeled as. You know, like Shannon, Debbie Deb or Connie, except there's two of them, so they have some nice interplay in their stylings.

The song itself is pretty simple (natch), but in that delightfully vague/ accessible pop song kind of way. "Right there" is clearly in reference to the narrator's heart, where her lost love has touched her before he left and where she keeps her secrets. It's also one of those playfully obvious to but still subtle enough to fly over the heads of the naive mainstream double entendres. Lines like "this is where I keep my heat," and "I liked it when you put your love in there" can elicit a sly smile from the guys in the audience, but to our moms, they were still just referring to the heart.

And they're also the type of lyrics that you're not meant to pay much attention to. Their voices are essentially just another instrument, and you're only really thinking about how cool it sounds when their pitch rises and falls as they sing, "RiiiIIIiight there!" It's all about the sonic landscape produced by Paul A. Rodriguez, who did a lot of this fresh stuff in the 80's, especially at Sugarscoop, where I believe he was a full time staffer. It's pure new wave 80's: programmed drums, synths, more synths, shamelessly processed vocals, and zany keyboard solos.

And this 12" version is remixed (by industry staple Bill Szymczyk), taking even ore of the emphasis away from the vocals and onto the studio sounds: more keyboards (of course!), transformed drum solos, and even some saxophone. It just takes it one step further "out there." So if you've only heard this song on the album, know that there's an even better version to be had on 12".

Now, the B-side is just the "Dub-A-Pella," but it drew my attention because it's over two minutes longer than the original cut. Essentially, what it turns out to be is the dub (instrumental with some background vocals) version immediately followed by the acapella, with no space in between, so it's like one long track. You didn't see very many acapellas on 12"s back in 1983, though, so that's pretty cool.

So next time you pass a bargain bin, pull this one out and give it a home (as Sally Struthers would say, "for the price of a cup of coffee"). And if you've got the album, give it a listen past track #1. 8)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Who Is Torche?

Well, first of all, I can tell you who Torche is not. He's not the third MC on "Bird's Eye View" on the True Sound Sampler EP like I reported way back in my video on that record over a year ago (and I've recently added an annotation to that video correcting that). SupHerb recently contacted me and corrected me that it was in fact him on that record. And if you're not sure why I take his recollection over Danny Halloway's, who told me it was Torche in the first place... well, if you listen closely, you can actually hear someone in the background say SupHerb's name right before his verse (but Danny's info was still very enlightening, and I thank him for taking the time to answer my questions). So, that wasn't Torche.

But Torche (a.k.a. Gumby) was from around that area and time, who did introduce those guys (Meen Green to Vooodu & Bird, the other artists on "Bird's Eye View"). I believe this is his only record: "The Distance," which came out on Wild West Records (which SupHerb was also on) in 1991. It's more of a positive message (of the"you can do it if you try" variety) song, so he doesn't really get to show off his skills, so it's a little hard to judge him just based off this one record. It's not bad, though. The instrumental, produced by Stevo, is essentially lifted wholly from 3rd Bass's "Words of Wisdom," but with a little Jungle Brothers percussion mixed in. The hook is sung by Melody, who's sort of in that house/techno diva kinda mode, intoning, "If you can go the distance and bring a rhyme to rhythm , there'll be no resistance; just bring a rhyme to rhythm." She gets a big showcase moment on the breakdown.

Then you've got the Wild West Version. It's essentially the same as the Radio Edit, though they add some serious sleigh bells to the beat. But otherwise it's the same until you get to the breakdown. Instead of letting Melody flex, Wild West label mates B.O.X. and The First Brigade (even though I don't think either actually wound up putting out any records on Wild West) drop guest verses. B.O.X. sounds pretty good and First Brigade have some fun interplay.

Finally there's the Jungle Mix, which drops the whole "Words of Wisdom" sample set and instead brings in more elements from "Sounds of the Jungle." It's ok; but the original instrumental is better. And fortunately, that's the instrumental version they opted to include.

So, that's who Torche is, I guess. It's a kind of fun, bit of rare west coast history. But I wish we could've heard another, less pop-oriented record from him that tested his skills a bit more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And the Initials of the Name are D.E.F.

(Youtube version is here.)

Kam's Face Lift

So, just like Werner's blog just got a little fact-lift, so did one of Kam's records. "Pull Ya Hoe Card" is a single off his second album, 1995's Made In America. It features an exclusive remix (as well as the album version), which is the mix they used in the music video etc.

It's a tight, G-funk record produced by the experts, E-A-Ski and CMT, but with hard enough beats and quality samples to appeal to hip-hop fans who usually cringe at the term "G-funk" as well. Of course, a majority of the credit for that east and other coast appeal also goes to Kam himself, with a tough, serious flow and lyrics that range from politics, The Nation of Islam, to the streets. "Pull Ya Hoe Card" is a little less message-oriented than some of his previous singles, like "Peace Treaty"... the subject matter's pretty self-explanatory from the title:

"So will the real O.G.'s please stand up?
Swearin' you a gangsta, but got the wrong hand up.
'I put that on the hood!' That's your favorite line;
Quick to chump a gang sign and say, 'I'm down for mine!'
I took a lotta shit, even in my own town.
'All them Muslim niggas is marks!' Now how that shit sound?
You better ask around before you come up missin'...
We got ways to handle people who don't wanna listen;
With respect from the streets to the cell blocks,
Somebody might find your tongue and your ears in a mailbox."

...Interestingly, the clean version edits out the phrase "your tongue and your ears," and on the album version he says "and now I gotta get down" instead of "even in my own town." Personally, I prefer the latter.

Now the remix isn't too drastically different. It's the exact same beat and rhymes. But producer G-One (who's a regular DJ Quik collaborator) has added some new, smooth skatting on the hook (singing "da da da dah da" etc), that's surely a signature element of the song for people who remember hearing it on the radio, and were surprised not to hear it on the album, where they just let the beat ride in silence for the hook. He also adds a very subtle but perfect piano behind the hook (and a few other points). I could see the casual listener not even noticing the differences, but the changes are a real improvement for those who care enough to catch the differences.

If you look at the label, you'll also notice there are versions that specify being "w. samples." Those versions feature a bunch of vocal samples taken from movies, speeches, television, etc. They sound dope, and add to the song, so to my mind they're the definitive version, I wouldn't bother with the mixes without 'em. But it's up to you, 'cause the 12" gives you both options.

Now, this last part is important. The version I've pictured is the promo version, with the white label and red sticker cover. The official single version has the typical, dark East/West label and a purple sticker cover. You need the promo version, because that's the only one that features the dirty version of the remix. The proper single stupidly only features the clean edits of the remix. The promo version also includes both instrumentals - the regular one only has the remix instrumental - and the acapella, which is absent from the proper single. So the promo version is essential for this one.

Werner's Face Lift

Hey, guys! Sorry updates slowed down for the past couple of days... but those of you who've been dropping by my site regularly (as opposed to reading my stuff via RSS or whatever) have probably noticed I've been tweaking and redesigning my blog's layout lately. Things have been moving up and down the right column, features have come and gone; but I think I've finally settled on it now. So, you'll notice like the blogger bar is gone, but I've added a spiffy new nav bar... I put up a contact/profile... cleaned out some clutter at the bottom of each post... removed those ugly orange RSS sub buttons 'cause I figure everyone just grabs 'em from the URL now anyway (though if you do need the link, there's still the "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)" link at the very bottom of the page)... and other tiny, little tweaks. So I think we've wound up with something with a little more functionality, a faster loading time, and a sharper look. Nothing major, but all win. :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

InstaRapFlix 20: Beef 3

"Beef, beef, BEEF! Back in the Duh-hayz!" ...To quote Chubb Rock. Yeah, it's back on with Beef 3 (Netflix rating: 2 stars), this time narrated by DJ Kay Slay.

The first beef, Bang Em Smurf & Domination Vs. Fifty Cent pretty much sets the tone for this declining chapter in the series. First off, Fifty doesn't even bother to comment; they didn't get him on this DVD at all (though he appeared on the previous discs, and actually has two "vs" segments on this one). So it's just these other guys, basically sounding real ignorant, pointing guns at the camera and bragging about stupid shit like throwing chairs at Summer Jam.

Chingy vs. Nelly was just a pair of bickering bitches whining about each other for no good reason. And that segment went of forever... it felt like it was never gonna end.

Twista gave a good interview, but in his segment (vs. Bone Thugs N Harmony), it basically just came out that they didn't have beef and never did. So, umm, ok. What did we just spend 10 minutes on it for? And there's more interviews, too, where rappers just talk about how hard it is to break a record or something in the South, the mix-tape game or rappers' frustration with the police, and don't have anything to do with beef. Clearly, the filmmakers just had some interviews that didn't fit anywhere and so they just padded this film with every random film clip they had. Even the film's final moments are Snoop Doggy Dogg talking about how the west coast is gonna make a comeback or something. Then, boom, cut to credits. What? Why was he even on camera? He didn't have anything to say about anything in the movie.

So, basically, Beef 3 is a big, fat let down. Half this movie has nothing to do with beef and just flounders around, boring and directionless. Then, the other half is just stupid. The squabbles are lame and the rappers are childish.

And it looks like this may be the last Beef write-up for me. I've just read that the final installment, Beef 4 is out to prove "that rappers aren't the only folks who have beefs" and instead "explores the battles brewing between ball players, skateboarders, comics, actors and more." As one commenter asked, "going from the first beef which featured the likes of biggie smalls vs tupac and 50cent vs murder inc to Ethan Hawke vs Will Smith and Dave Chapelle vs Comedy central. Whats next Burger king vs McDonalds?" This is a hip-hop site, so I think this is where we get off. And after what I just watched, I'm only to happy to.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th, Everybody! American and Proud!

Big Scoob dropped this anthem in 2002 on the underrated label, Fully Blown (they did a full run of 12"s with Scoob, plus Chubb Rock's last 12", PRT's last 12", etc). It's produced by a DJ by the name of L. Supreme, who also produced Scoob's "The Way They Go" single. He does a good job, but really it'd be pretty hard to screw this one up.

The concept is pretty simple... it changes James Brown's epic tune "I'm Black and I'm Proud" to "I'm American and Proud!" The hook is basically the same, with a chorus of children shouting it out, and the instrumental liberally takes from all its elements - the funky horns, etc - from the original. This is hardly the first time that song has been used in this way - think Tragedy or Kool Moe Dee - but since when has cribbing from James ever been a bad look? It's not breaking any new ground (even slightly) but like the "Impeach the President" breakbeat; it still works perfectly every time.

And this is well after the period, thankfully, where he was doing that high-pitched B-Real knock-of voice... here he's back to his natural, engaging voice and flow. His rhymes are witty without being punchliney, clear, and they move at a consistent pace but without ever spilling into "fast rap" (not that I mind fast rap at all; but it ain't mainstream if soccer moms can't rap along) Honestly, I think Big Scoob is like the second Jay-Z who just never got that big break. You see it somewhat here, but not quite as strongly as on some of his other records, since he's a kinda tied down to the stars and stripes talk here.

There's nothing else here besides the song and the instrumental on the flip, but it's a good song. If Fully Blown was larger and had wider distribution, I could easily see this being one of those records DJs break out at the same time every year; and when they did, it would get the crowd open.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff Transform Together

Now, you might be reading this title and thinking, "no shit, Werner. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were platinum superstars who recorded five albums and tons of hit singles and videos. Your title telling us they worked together is meant to come as some sort of surprise or news to somebody?" No, no. But stick with me here for a moment.

"A Touch of Jazz" was Jazzy Jeff's solo cut on their debut album, Rock the House (sometimes people confuse it as their second album... but that's because it was re-released in 1988 after the duo blew up). And it truly is jazzy, classy, smooth and probably the most important DJ record since "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels of Steel." Pop audiences may only remember the album for "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble;" but for the real heads, this was the stand-out track. There's some scratching, yes; but this is more about smooth blends of phat jazz loops, Marvin Gaye, soul mixed into a seamless rhythm. It's everything DJ Shadow's Entroducing was, only twice as def and a decade earlier!

And that classic (I may be guilty of overusing this word, but it applies here in the truest sense) album version is present on the 1987 12" single, but so is a lot more, starting with the "Extended Re-Touch." Now, at first this essentially plays out the same as the LP mix, except with a deep vocal sample declaring "A Touch of Jazz!" every so often, which I could just as easily do without. But a quick look at the label shows us that this version is over a minute and a half longer, and soon Jeff is blending in new records, with new sounds and scratches. Every aspect you loved from the original has been retained, and the new material fits in perfectly and the quality is still top notch.

Then we flip this record over to the B-side, and here's where the title comes into play. We get the "Collapsed In the Street Mix" (as well as a shorter "Collapsed In the Street Edit") that turns Jeff's instrumental masterpiece into a vocal track featuring The Fresh Prince. There's some new scratches, drums, etc... but obviously the inclusion of several rap verses is what stands out the most in this mix. Fortunately, there are still extended instrumental periods giving Jeff a chance to flex both his cuts (this time adding a lot of "Good Times" over the classic "Rapper's Delight" bassline) and his innovative blends... it doesn't follow the verse/hook/verse formula of the typical record, so it manages to keep the mood of the original pretty well intact. And The Prince doesn't try to distract with comical stories or battle rhymes, he just raps enthusiastically about the music:

"Making a record
Is similar to baking.
You need ingredients
If you plan on making
It come out correctly
And in a second,
I'm gonna give the recipe
We used on this record:
A quarter cup of rhymes
And a cup of beats,
A half cup of clubs
And dash in the streets;
A piece of the present
And a pinch of the past;
Throw in Jeff and the Prince
And a touch of jazz!"

The song winds up being almost 7 minutes long! And that's where this 12" really gets it right... with each increasingly different mix, they don't replace anything, they just keep adding onto what they have and building up. So they never sacrafice anything - the album version was less than half the length of this mix.

All that and a colorful picture cover? In this day of rarities going for record-breaking prices, it's nice to know that some of the crate digger's shiniest gems are still in plentiful abundance.